E-Mail Edition  Volume 7   Number 2

Originally published Spring, 2010

Published by Piccadilly Books, Ltd., www.piccadillybooks.com.

Bruce Fife, N.D., Publisher, www.coconutresearchcenter.org

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  • Palm Oil Saves Lives

  • Most Published Research Findings Are False

  • The Delectable Artichoke

  • Put a Stop to Dandruff












Ripening fruit on an oil palm.




Palm Oil Saves Lives

The vitamin, antioxidant, and anti-toxin properties of red palm oil are saving the lives of millions of children and adults worldwide every year.


Vitamin A deficiency is a global problem affecting approximately 40 percent of the world's population, particularly pregnant or lactating women and children under the age of five. An estimated 100 to 140 million children suffer from subclinical vitamin A deficiency. The lack of vitamin A can lead to stunted growth, blindness, poor dental health, delayed mental development, increased susceptibility to infections, and increased risk of death. Even subclinical vitamin deficiency, where clear physical signs are not evident, kills 23 percent of affected children under the age of five.1

Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are the most affected. In the West African country of Burkina Faso 84.5 percent of the under-five children and 61.8 percent of their mothers are vitamin A deficient. Vitamin A comes from meat and milk, products that are in short supply in many parts of the world, including Burkina Faso. The vitamin can also be manufactured in our bodies from provitamin A nutrients such as beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, plant pigments found in orange, red, and dark green fruits and vegetables. Beta-carotene is what makes tomatoes red and carrots orange.

The conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A requires a certain amount of dietary fat. Unfortunately, even though there may be ample consumption of beta-carotene rich foods, the lack of fat in the diet retards vitamin A synthesis.

In an attempt to stem the tide of vitamin A deficiency, a number of countries have instigated programs to enrich school meals with red palm oil by adding it to breads and stews. Red palm oil is the richest dietary source of beta-carotene. The dark red color of the oil comes from the high concentration of beta-carotene and other carotenoids. It also supplies the fat necessary to convert beta-carotene into vitamin A. Initial studies have shown the enrichment program to be "highly effective" in reducing vitamin A deficiency.

Red palm oil, being a food, is easily incorporated into the diet as a part of


food preparation. Villagers can purchase the oil or harvest and make their own. Red palm oil comes from the oil palm, a tree native to western Africa.

While palm oil has been used as a food for millennia in western Africa, it has only recently become a commercial crop. Its newfound nutritional properties make it a potential lifesaver for over 100 million people who are currently suffering from vitamin A deficiency.

Red palm fruit.

The Shocking Truth About Palm Oil

by Dr. Bruce Fife

Available from Piccadilly Books, Ltd.

click here

In addition to carotenes, red palm oil is a rich source of many other vitamins and antioxidants. It is packed with vitamin E and is the richest source of super-powerful forms of vitamin E called tocotrienols. Tocotrienols have 60 times the antioxidant efficiency of ordinary vitamin E. Eating red palm oil is like


taking a high potency vitamin supplement, which is another reason why it is so beneficial in school lunch programs.

One of the staple foods in Africa as well as Asia, South America, and the Pacific is cassava (also known as manioc), the plant from which we get tapioca. Cassava is an important tropical root crop, providing food to about 500 million people worldwide. Cassava, however, contains a substance that breaks down into cyanide, making it poisonous. Traditional processing techniques reduce the cyanide content in the tubers and leaves, making it edible. In Africa the bitter cassava is the most common variety used and contains a higher amount of cyanide than in other species. The bitter variety is often preferred for cultivation because it is not bothered by insects or animals due to its toxic nature. Cassava is the staple crop of over 200 million people in Africa. People eat about 60 percent of the cassava produced, with the remainder going to feed their livestock.

Cultivated Cassava in the Congo.

The Palm Oil Miracle

by Dr. Bruce Fife

is available from

Piccadilly Books, Ltd.

click here



Processing involves peeling, grating, washing, boiling, fermenting, drying, and roasting which extends over a three to four day period. By then, 80-95 percent of the cyanide has been neutralized or washed away. The final step is to neutralize the remaining toxins by mixing the cassava mash/meal with red palm oil. Improper or incomplete processing has led to deaths in both animals and humans, so following each step in the process is a matter of life or death.


Unprocessed Cassava root.


The addition of red palm oil is an important step in the neutralization process. Without it, toxic levels can remain high enough to cause acute poisoning or chronic illness if eaten over an extended period of time. Cyanide inhibits iodine uptake by the thyroid gland and even a very small, nonlethal amount consumed regularly over a period of time will lead to thyroid dysfunction and goiter. It can also lead to neurological disorders characterized by muscular incoordination and spastic paralysis. In some areas of Africa, chronic low-level cyanide poisoning affects up to 3 percent of the population.

The importance of adding red palm oil was investigated by researchers at the University of Nigeria. They fed lab rats prepared cassava meal with or without added red palm oil for ten weeks. The rats were then autopsied and body organs examined. There was a significant reduction in severity and percentage of lesions and abnormalities in the group fed cassava containing red palm oil.2 This study confirmed the value of the age-old practice of adding red palm oil to the cassava meal.

In another study, investigators fed rabbits diets containing up to 50 percent cassava peel meal. The peel contains the highest concentration of cyanide and in this dosage is highly lethal. When the rabbits were given supplemental palm oil, cyanide levels did not rise in their blood and there was no adverse effect to the cyanide poisoning.3 Red palm oil completely neutralized the harmful effects of the cyanide.

The exact reason why red palm oil blocks the toxic effects of cyanide is not yet understood. Cyanide poisoning is known to block iodine uptake, disrupt electrolyte balance within the cells, and generate massive amounts of free radicals which cause lipid peroxidation and cell membrane damage. Perhaps the nutrients and antioxidants in the oil prevent much of this destruction from happening. It has also been suggested that the palm oil supplementation prevents the absorption of the cyanide in the digestive tract, allowing it to pass though the body without harm. Whatever the reason, red palm oil effectively protects against the harmful effects of the poison.

Red palm oil makes it possible for literally millions of people in Africa and other parts of the world who depend on cassava as their primary source of food to survive. The fact that it provides a cure for vitamin A deficiency, which affects millions more, adds to its value and importance in human nutrition.



  1. Zeba, A.N., et al. The positive impact of red palm oil in school meals on vitamin A status: study in Burkina Faso. Nutrition Journal 2006;5:17.

  2. Ihedioha, J.I. The clinicopathologic significance of enriching grated cassava mash with red palm oil in the production of gari. Plant Foods Hum Nutr 2002;57:295-305.

  3. Omole, T.A. and Onwudike, O.C. Effect of palm oil on the use of cassava peel meal by rabbit. Tropical Animal Production 1982;8:27-32.






Source: Wikimedia Commons





























Source: Wikimedia Commons




























Most Published Research Findings Are False


"It can be proven that most claimed research findings are false," says Dr. John Ioannidis of the Tufts-New England Medical Center, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston. In a paper published in the journal PLoS Medicine, Dr Ioannidis explains that there is an increasing concern in the scientific community that most current published research findings are false. Study outcomes are influenced by a number of factors, including researchers' bias, financial interests, sponsors' interests, limited sample sizes, poor study design, statistical manipulations, and just plain old greed.

"Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true," says Ioannidia. "For many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias."1 For most of the past several decades medical investigators have skewed research toward condemning saturated fat and cholesterol because that was the prevailing bias. Although now enough accurate research has been done to show that eating saturated fat and cholesterol do not promote heart disease, stroke, or diabetes, bias keeps the lipid hypothesis alive.

The lipid hypothesis was born primarily though the work of Dr. Ancel Keys, who published a study showing that as fat consumption increases, so do heart disease deaths. He created a graph showing the data from six countries. This graph clearly showed that those countries that ate little fat had low heart disease death rates and those that ate the most fat had the highest death rates. The graph he created showed a straight line relationship between fat consumption and heart disease deaths. In 1970 he refined his hypothesis using seven countries to show a similar relationship between saturated fat and heart disease. His belief was that dietary saturated fat was the cause of heart disease. His graphs convinced many in the medical community, and the lipid hypothesis became the prevailing belief for the next several decades. Much research was published in an effort to further prove this hypothesis.

The problem with Dr. Keys' original work was that it was all fabricated. He had data from some 20 countries he could have used, yet he carefully selected only those countries that neatly fit his hypothesis. The rest of the data was ignored as if it didn't exist. If Keys had used all the data available to him when he created his graph, the relationship between dietary fat and heart disease would have vanished.

Decades of medical and nutritional research have been tainted due to bias based on faulty science. While more accurate studies are being published in regards to the effect of dietary fat on heart disease and other conditions, a strong financial interest exists that struggles to keep alive false theories. Pharmaceutical companies make billions of dollars selling cholesterol-lowering drugs. The latest studies are showing that total blood cholesterol is inconsequential and does not affect heart disease; cholesterol levels are more of a consequence of heredity rather than diet. To counter these facts, the pharmaceutical industry has sponsored a multitude of studies to justify the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs. As a consequence, the medical literature is filled with conflicting studies in regard to diet, nutrition, and cholesterol.

The pharmaceutical industry sponsors a vast amount of research. Researchers know that if they publish information uncomplimentary to their sponsor, their funding will be cut off and their careers could be in jeopardy. Therefore, there is tremendous pressure placed on the researchers to produce favorable results. Even if researchers are funded by private or government agencies, if they publish studies critical of drug companies' interests they are often targeted for attack.

Drug companies keep hit lists of those who criticize them. A recent news story tells about such lists found on company emails that were leaked to the public. The pharmaceutical giant Merck identified certain doctors who had criticized the painkiller Vioxx, a dangerous and now-withdrawn drug that the company produced. Company emails described ways to "neutralize" or "discredit" these doctors.

One of the methods they use to discredit the research of the doctors on their hit lists is to fund research to counteract their claims. A good example of this is the case of Dr. Andrew Wakefield.2 Dr. Wakefield, a Senior Lecturer at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in the UK, was one of the original researchers who discovered the link between autism and childhood vaccinations. The study that landed him in hot water was published in the prestigious medical journal the Lancet, in February 1998. In this article he only suggested the possible connection between autism and vaccinations. But the article caused vaccination sales in the UK to decline dramatically. In retaliation, the pharmaceutical industry hired researchers to publish studies discrediting Wakefield's work and to demonstrate that there is no link between autism and vaccinations. Several studies were published, and the media (no doubt prodded by the drug industry) loudly proclaimed all is well, there is no fear, vaccinations do not cause autism. However, it was later discovered, without any media fanfare, that the lead author of some of these studies had fabricated the data. He may not have even written the studies he is credited (or discredited) for writing. It is likely that the drug company paid a ghostwriter to write the articles and all he did was sign his name to them. Medical ghostwriting is big business and a highly profitable one for the drug companies. It is also a very unethical practice as well because it advertises alleged benefits of drugs while hiding adverse side effects.

The media are continually reporting adverse reactions to newly approved drugs, many of which are pulled from store shelves as complaints pile up and lawsuits ensue. Remember the Phen-fen fiasco or the Baycol blunder? These FDA-approved drugs caused many deaths and crippled others before being pulled from the market. Phen-fen, which was prescribed as an aid in weight loss, caused permanent heart and lung damage. Baycol, a cholesterol-lowering statin drug, caused breakdown of muscle tissue resulting in kidney and heart failure. Interestingly, most of these "side effects" were known before they were approved by the FDA, but were considered only "minor" nuisances because the drug companies downplayed or even suppressed this information during the approval process.

Studies submitted to the FDA are typically conducted by or funded by the drug manufacturer, who obviously has a heavy financial interest. These and subsequent studies, however, are not necessarily accurate or factual. Once a drug is approved, additional studies promoting the effectiveness of the drug are required to entice doctors to prescribe it and reporters to write glowing articles about it to convince the public and create demand for the product.

Unfortunately, many of these drugs don't perform as well as they are touted or carry health risks that far outweigh any potential benefit. To sidestep this problem the drug companies engage in the practice of medical ghostwriting. Medical ghostwriting is the production of phony medical articles based on biased research to promote the use of drugs and vaccines.

Peer-reviewed articles published in medical journals are the gold standard when it comes to scientific reports. Your doctor relies on them when making decisions affecting your health. Medical ghostwriting is scary because your doctor may be basing his advice to you on marketing propaganda rather than sound science. This ultimately may be disastrous to your health, just as Phen-fen, Baycol, and Vioxx were for thousands of others.

Drug companies hire people with scientific backgrounds, often with PhDs, to stay in the shadows and crank out glowing reports for their products. The drug companies then pay doctors to put their names on the studies as the authors. Many doctors are more than willing to do this for the money and prestige, as well as to advance their careers.

Medical ghostwriters are given an outline from the drug companies telling them what to write and what data to use. Negative data is not provided. The purpose of the article is to make the study sound as positive as possible to encourage favorable media publicity and encourage doctors to prescribe the drug. Adverse side effects are often completely ignored.

Medical ghostwriters typically make over $100,000 a year. Drug companies may pay as much as $20,000 for a single article that makes its way into a prestigious medical journal like the Lancet, British Medical Journal, or the New England Journal of Medicine.

The drug companies pay doctors and university professors who have no connection with the study to sign their names as the authors of the article. Some of these "authors" may not have even read the studies they supposedly have written. Drug companies prefer high-profile authors: the higher the profile, the greater the credibility for the article. This explains why some doctors can be listed as authors or coauthors to a dozen or more studies a year. In reality, he or she may not have done any actual work on the articles or the studies.

"What appear to be scientific articles are really infomercials," says Dr. David Healy of Cardiff University School of Medicine, Wales. Unfortunately, universities get entangled with the drug companies as well. Drug companies fund research. Universities thrive on the prestige and money generated from this research. Consequently, researchers are pressured to produce favorable results and minimize unfavorable results. The consequences of publishing the facts, regardless of the sponsor, can have drastic repercussions. Dr. Healy lost his position at the University of Toronto after he criticized the drug company Eli Lilly for suppressing evidence that its drug Prozac leads to increased deaths from suicide.

Dr. Healy is a high-profile researcher with 110 peer-reviewed papers and 13 books to his credit. For this reason, he is a prime candidate as an author for ghostwritten studies. He was approached by one company to write an article based on his previous studies, which he was willing to do. "To my big surprise," says Healy, "I had an e-mail shortly afterwards." It stated: "In order to reduce your workload, we have had our ghostwriters produce a first draft based on your published work. I attach it here."

Healy wasn't comfortable with the glowing review of the drug, so he crafted his own article. The drug company wrote back and said he'd missed something key. In the end, the drug company put someone else's name on the article.

Healy is spooked by the deception. He says it goes beyond being misleading — it can be dangerous. He's seen a lot of articles on drugs, like anti-depressants, that don't mention serious problems. "People and children, for instance, that have been put on these drugs, actually committing suicide or becoming suicidal. But the finished articles actually don't reflect this at all."

Essentially all drug companies hire medical ghostwriters to produce favorable journal articles on their products. Healy has seen internal drug company documents in which lists of scientific papers were written up, ready to go. The only things missing were the names of high-profile doctors to be listed as the authors. This is routine practice in the pharmaceutical industry. Healy estimates that 50 percent of the drug studies published in medical journals are ghostwritten. You can't tell which ones are legitimate and which are not. Although authors must declare if they have any competing interests that would influence their results, doctors who sign their names to ghostwritten articles do not reveal their relationship with the drug company, so they appear as impartial researchers.

Getting doctors to fess up to sticking their names on papers written by ghostwriters is tricky business. When one high-profile author was approached about the authorship of an article, at first he admitted he "couldn't remember who wrote the paper" that had his name on it. As the interview progressed he became increasingly uncomfortable with the line of questioning and said the drug company "might have" written the first draft. By the end of the interview he suddenly remembered that he'd written every word of it.

Medical journal editors say they're trying to address the problem by weeding out planted studies, but it is not an easy task because each author must be contacted and questioned. When a study is submitted to medical journals, everyone who has had anything to do with the article is listed — like a film credit. As many as a dozen coauthors could be listed. John Hoey, the editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, says, "We have no way of checking. We barely have the resources to do what we're doing, let alone whether so-and-so is telling us honestly what they did."

When you go to the doctor and he prescribes a medication, are you getting one that is the best for your condition with the least risk, or are you getting something that has the most favorable write-up in the latest medical journal? The statin drug Baycol that caused many to have kidney and heart failure was favorably viewed as a safe treatment of high cholesterol, which, by the way, is a benign condition for most people.

When a medical ghostwriter (who was interviewed on condition of anonymity) was asked if he had any concerns about what he was doing, he stated he didn't feel any ownership for the articles. He was just doing a job. It was the drug company's responsibility. "As long as I do my job well, it's not up to me to decide how the drug is positioned" he says. "I'm just following the information I'm being given. The way I look at it, if doctors that have their name on it, that's their responsibility, not mine."3

Keep in mind that just because a study says a certain drug is effective or safe, it isn't necessarily so. As it looks now, the situation isn't going to change anytime soon. The practice of medical ghostwriting isn't about to give up the ghost. Drug companies will continue to influence researchers and research institutions. Personal preferences and biases are still going to creep into studies.

Does that mean we cannot trust any of the research being published in medical journals? No, it means that you need to be very cautious about which journal articles you believe and which ones to take with a grain of salt.





  1. John Ioannidis, Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. PLoS Medicine.

  2. http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124.

  3. Joseph Mercola, Why Medical Authorities Went to Such Extremes to Silence Dr. Andrew Wakefield. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/04/10/wakefield-interview.aspx.

  4. Erica Johnson, Medical Ghostwriting, CBC News. go here.






 The Delectable Artichoke 

Are you getting your recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables every day? The latest guidelines from the US Department of Health and Human Services actually recommends that we get at least 5 to 13 servings a day. A serving is generally ½ cup, so this would amount to 2½ to 6½ cups a day. The amount depends on your total caloric requirements for your age and activity level (see table below). An average adult needs about 2,000 calories a day to maintain weight and health. This translates into nine servings, or 4½ cups, per day, most of which should be vegetables. Most people should actually be getting close to nine servings of fruits and vegetables rather than just five.


What counts as a cup of vegetables and fruits? For most fresh or cooked vegetables and fruits, 1 cup is simply what you would put in a measuring cup. There are four main exceptions to this rule: lettuce, dried fruit, potatoes, and dry beans. You need 2 cups of lettuce and other raw leafy greens to get the equivalent of 1 cup of vegetables. For dried fruit, you only need to eat ½ cup to get the equivalent of 1 cup of fruit. Potatoes and beans (pinto, kidney, etc.) are not counted as vegetables, since they are mostly starch.

Technically, vegetable and fruit juices would count as part of the daily serving  requirement However, juices are very high in





sugar and devoid of fiber that would ordinarily moderate sugar absorption. The sugar content of pure fruit juice is the same as an equal amount of cola — about 10 teaspoons per 12 ounce serving. While the juice may include some vitamins and minerals, it is really little more than just flavored sugar water — not really a health drink.

For most people the only non-starchy vegetables they eat are tomatoes (usually in the form of tomato sauce), pickles, lettuce, and onions (generally on hamburgers or other fast food). Other vegetables are eaten only occasionally. Vegetables add variety and excitement to meals, not to mention that they are packed with important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other valuable nutrients.

Try adding some of the less common vegetables into your diet for a change. Artichokes, for instance, have a unique flavor with a definite edge. They are a rich source of silymarin, an antioxidant found in milk thistle, traditionally used in many cultures to treat liver, gallbladder and digestive disorders. Artichokes also are a good source of magnesium, potassium and fiber, and they contain folate and carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, good for our eyes.

Best of all, artichokes are wonderful to eat and low in calories. They require a little work — but it's time well spent.



Steamed Artichokes with Vinaigrette Dipping Sauce

This is the simplest way to prepare artichokes — there's hardly any trimming involved. The time is spent in the eating.


2 large or 4 medium artichokes

Dipping sauce, below


1. Lay an artichoke on its side on a cutting board. Using a large, sharp knife, cut away the entire top quarter in one slice. Cut off the stem at the bottom so the artichoke will stand upright. Pull off the tough bottom leaves (bracts).

2. Bring two inches of water to a boil in a steamer or pasta pot, and place the artichokes in the steaming basket. If they are too big to fit, place them directly in the water. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer 45 minutes or until a leaf easily pulls away. Remove from the heat. Serve hot or at room temperature with a sauce for dipping the leaves. When you reach the papery leaves that cover the feathery chokes in the center, cut them away along with the chokes and discard. This leaves the heart or base of the artichoke. This is the best part. Eat it with the dipping sauce.



Yogurt Vinaigrette Dipping Sauce

Traditionally steamed artichokes are served with butter or mayonnaise. This recipe uses a vinaigrette-based sauce thickened with just a bit of mayonnaise and yogurt.


2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

Sea salt or kosher salt to taste

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 small garlic clove, minced or pureed

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons plain low-fat yogurt

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Freshly ground pepper to taste


Whisk together the vinegar, salt, Dijon mustard and garlic. Whisk in the mayonnaise, yogurt, and olive oil, and blend well. Taste, adjust salt, and add pepper. Use as a dip for artichokes or other vegetables.


Yield: ¾ cup




How Many Servings of Fruit and Vegetables Do You Need Per Day?



See Estimated Calorie Requirements table below to determine your calorie level and compare to the scale on the right. Keep in mind that this is the minimum number of servings you should eat, not the ideal amount.



Servings (1/2 cup each)


















Estimated Calorie Requirements (in Kilocalories) for Each Gender and Age Group at Three Levels of Physical Activitya 


Estimated amounts of calories needed to maintain energy balance for various gender and age groups at three different levels of physical activity. The estimates are rounded to the nearest 200 calories and were determined using the Institute of Medicine equation.



Activity Level b,c,d


Age (years)


Moderately Activec




















a These levels are based on Estimated Energy Requirements (EER) from the Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intakes macronutrients report, 2002, calculated by gender, age, and activity level for reference-sized individuals. "Reference size," as determined by IOM, is based on median height and weight for ages up to age 18 years of age and median height and weight for that height to give a BMI of 21.5 for adult females and 22.5 for adult males.

b Sedentary means a lifestyle that includes only the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.

c Moderately active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking about 1.5 to 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life

d Active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking more than 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.

e The calorie ranges shown are to accommodate needs of different ages within the group. For children and adolescents, more calories are needed at older ages. For adults, fewer calories are needed at older ages.



2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, U.S. Department of Agriculture







Put A Stop To Dandruff, Fungus, Germs, Flakes



Got dandruff? Most people do to one extent or another. People have been troubled by dandruff since the dawn of time. Consequently, many folk remedies for dandruff exist, from massaging olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, old tea leaves, or even vodka into the scalp to adding concoctions of herbs such as burdock and celandine to soap or shampoo. Even warm water enemas have been suggested.

There is no scientific proof that any of these work, prompting the old joke: "What do I recommend for dandruff?...Wear a white coat."

Dandruff, also known as seborrheic dermatitis, is a common, inflammatory skin condition that causes flaky, white to yellowish scales of skin to form on oily areas of the scalp. Cradle cap is the term used when seborrheic dermatitis affects the scalp of infants.

What causes dandruff? Scientists have come a little closer to understanding the mysteries of dandruff, a condition as ubiquitous as it is embarrassing. In the past, dandruff has been blamed on dry skin, oily skin, washing the hair too often or not enough, on diet, stress, or simply a lack of personal hygiene. "Dandruff on the collar" is shorthand for a man careless of his personal appearance.

But the real blame for dandruff lies not in neglect, but in a yeast-like fungus, Malassezia globosa, which lives on the scalp and feeds on the oily products of the sebaceous glands.

Recently, scientists have decoded the complete DNA of the fungus, which could provide clues to how to combat it more effectively. The scientists involved work for Procter & Gamble, manufacturers of Head & Shoulders, an anti-dandruff shampoo. The fungus is one of the simplest ever sequenced, with just 4,285 genes, 300 times fewer than its human host.

Dr. Thomas Dawson from Procter & Gamble's Miami Valley Innovation Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, reports in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the fungus has adapted to its environment by losing the ability to make its own fatty acids. Instead, it survives by feeding off the fats secreted on to the scalp by the sebaceous glands. Men have larger sebaceous glands than women, which probably explains why they are affected more often by dandruff.

The white snow-like flakes of dandruff are bits of skin. Shedding skin is normal, but in dandruff sufferers this happens more rapidly than normal. The newly decoded genome shows that the fungus produces enzymes called lipases that trigger dandruff in a two-stage process. First, the fungus uses lipases to metabolize the fats secreted by the sebaceous glands, creating oleic acid as a by-product. Oleic acid is the primary fatty acid found in olive oil. This in turn penetrates the top layer of skin and triggers the rapid turnover of skin cells. This is dandruff.

About half the human population suffers from dandruff, though it can usually be controlled by special shampoos that contain fungus fighting chemicals such as selenium disulfide or ketoconazole (e.g., Head & Shoulders, Selsun Blue). Yet despite its importance, relatively little has been known about the fungus that triggers the whole process.

As well as decoding its genome, the P&G team investigated which proteins the fungus secretes. They found that it produces eight lipases and three phospholipases, which it uses to digest the oils from the scalp. Each of these proteins could be a possible therapeutic target for new anti-dandruff preparations.

They also found that M. globosa has the genes necessary for mating, although happily this has never been observed in the species. The idea of a head covered in fungi is bad enough without having to think of them mating.

The average human head provides a home for up to ten million M. globosa fungi. Similar fungi cause skin and ear problems in animals, including dogs. Anti-dandruff shampoos do not eradicate the fungus, but they can control it.

Theoretically, anything that can kill the fungus can be useful in controlling dandruff. Such folk remedies as vodka or vinegar actually do work because of their antiseptic properties. Another home remedy is coconut oil. Massage coconut oil into the scalp and let it soak in for 15 to 30 minutes, then wash the hair with regular shampoo. Repeat the process every three or four days. The antiseptic properties of the coconut oil kill the fungus. Like any treatment for dandruff, including antifungal chemicals such as selenium disulfide or ketoconazole, coconut oil cannot completely rid the body of the infection. Once a person is infected with M. globosa, it tends to stick around for life, so the only thing you can do is to keep it under control.

An added benefit of using coconut oil on the scalp is the effect it has on the hair. It gives the hair a healthy luxurious shine and actually strengthens the hair shaft. Some people even claim it enhances the natural hair color and promotes growth.





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Copyright © 2010,  Bruce Fife. All rights reserved.